On the Disposal of Human Remains.


Edwin F. Kagin is a lawyer poet. He believes that, through grace and faith,
this will be a regular column and, if events are predestined, that whatever
he believes makes no difference whatsoever. He can be reached in care of
this publication, or through e mail at: edwin@edwinkagin.com
Permission for non-profit reproduction is given, so long as credit is given,
so the villagers will not go after the wrong person with pitchforks and torches.


Here lies an atheist, all dressed up and no place to go. humorous tombstone

Today’s cheery topic treats what to do with your carcass when you are dead. Like it or not, one day you will have to be disposed of. Animals don’t make a fuss of this fact; they go off and die. Humans, believing they are better than animals, invent religions. The prime motive of most religions is to create a myth about some kind of individual continuance after all electrical activity in the brain stops and the organism starts to rot. As the old preacher put it, “Brothers and sisters, this is only the shell; the poor nut has gone.” Where the nut has gone is a matter of much debate, as is the problem of what to do with the shell. Some religions believe the body must be buried, others hold it must be burned. Take your choice.

Traditional Christian human remains disposal involves burying the corpse in a box in the ground. Bodies were to be laid East to West, so the dead flesh could rise to great Christ who is coming from the East. No kidding. Christianity teaches a bodily resurrection and an ascent of the reanimated cadaver to heaven. The Bible says nothing about humans possessing an “immortal soul.” You can win bets with believers on this point. Them bones are to rise again. The ghoulish, and those who have witnessed autopsies, may wonder how those who slept in the graves will get by with the brain, heart, lungs, intestines and other really important stuff removed and thrown away. And mystical indeed will be the rebirth of the decapitated — say a saint like Sir Thomas More whose body is in one place and whose head was stuck on Traitor’s Gate. Ah, the mysteries of faith. What of those who died in Christ in explosions or carnage that converted living flesh to mangled roadkill? What of the woman whose murderer husband ran her dismembered body through the wood chipper? Will those whose bodies are cremated to ashes in a fiery furnace yet in the flesh see God? So goes the belief. The Book of “Job” says yes, even if the carcass is eaten up by worms, you will see God in your bodily form. The age you will be isn’t revealed. Maybe you get to choose.

Persons planning to be buried should understand that no grave on earth is anything other than a present or future crime scene or archaeological site. Eventually, someone will dig you up for saleable goodies or for information your burial stuff and postmortem analysis can reveal about your time. Or your grave can be scooped away to make room for a subdivision to house the children of the “life what a beautiful choice” movement. The greatest tombs of the greatest kings, designed to be secure for eternity, were magnets for thieves who weren’t fooled by myths of curses. You can stroll through the burial chamber of a pharaoh, stripped by tomb robbers centuries before archaeologists put the living god’s remains in a glass case in a museum. Native American sacred burial grounds, and even Civil War graves, are being plundered by the irreverent, who sell the honored dead’s tools and belt buckles at flea markets. One third of all the people who ever lived on earth are alive today. If everyone is buried, eventually there will not be space available for both the living and the dead. Guess who wins that argument.

You could donate your body to a medical school for dissection by students, but there are usually more than enough dead incompetents to satisfy this need. The best way to get rid of your burdensome dead body is to burn it up. Crematorium ashes are sterile and far easier to dispose of than decaying meat and bone. The ashes can be scattered somewhere, cast into a bust of yourself (to be sold at some future garage sale), put in a decorative vase, or used to plaster the wall or provide variety in the cat box. Your then heirs can be creative. It doesn’t matter — for you won’t be there. The Bible says, “For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope; for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.” Ecclesiastes 9:4-5, by God. How the foregoing can be reconciled with the notion of life after death is another of those mysteries of faith.

If you have lived in such a manner that anyone will miss you or lament your absence, there are rational ways for them to celebrate your existence, share and purge grief, and then get on with their lives. Those tending to your disposal should cremate your corpse privately and quickly, after permitting family, if they wish, to see how your dead body looks. It may help them appreciate you are really not going to be seen or heard from again. After a suitable number of days or weeks, depending on how your survivors feel, they can have a party in your memory. Photos and videos could accompany anecdotes of your presence on earth, and artifacts of your life’s journey could be displayed as, amid feasting and merriment, you, in your diversities (if any), are remembered.

Before you return to wherever you were before you were born, it might be a good idea to so live that people remember you fondly. This is not a dress rehearsal. Life ends / Tao flows.
Don’t take life too seriously; you won’t get out of it alive anyway.

Edwin Kagin


  1. cowcakes says

    My Norse heritage demands nothing less than a longboat pushed out to sea and set aflame.

    Failing that donate my body to science or put me through a mulcher to make plant food. Ultimately we’re all recycled star stuff anyway.

  2. resident_alien says

    Some company in the UK has come up with a way to turn a corpse into easily compostable pellets.It’s supposed to be a climate-friendly alternative to cremation.I for one like the idea of my remains fertilizing,say,a tree or a patch of roses or something like that.

  3. scotlyn says

    As I have been fed in life, so let me feed in death.

    No embalming; the flimsiest, most bio-degradable of containers; burial or compost. So I will.

  4. says

    So much money is wasted on funerals and burials, all to impress people who are left. I have two generations of my family in graves in North Dakota. My descendants won’t remember where they are any more than I know where those of my great great grandparents are. Nor will they care.

    My parents remains occupy a plot in an Altadena, Ca cemetary. I haven’t visited it since the graveside memorial I conducted for my father. It’s doubtful I ever will see it again. Why bother?

    Both I and my wife want to simply be cremated and have our ashes scattered, probably on this property, to re-enter the cycle of recycling that has gone on unceasingly since the universe began.

    It would be nice to believe that some essence will go on, but I’m not counting on it and neither is my wife. When our brains cease to function, that’s probably the end. All this burying, embalming, etc., etc. is pure nonsense that benefits no one other than the funeral homes and cemetaries as far as we are concerned.

    In the end, it’s all just vanity.

  5. David Hart says

    I have a fond hope that I would be able to arrange for some of my skin to be used as a banjo skin so that I can continue to make music from beyond the grave. WooOOooOOooOOoo!

    Of course, this will entail identifying a country where this is legal, and ensuring that I am resident there at the time I die. Any suggestions?

  6. Dave, the Kwisatz Haderach says

    Scoop out the bits that will help anyone else, and feed the rest to the wolves. Although, having read it upthread, I’m kinda grooving on the burning longboat idea.

    As long as my funeral/wake ends up like this. I will be happy.

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